Thursday, August 30, 2012

whiteboard comparison: Educreations vs. Doceri

Update (3/28/2015): This is still one of my most-read blog posts. Not that I mind the traffic, but I feel I should point out that this information is probably seriously out of date. I haven’t used either of the apps described here in over two years—not because I grew to dislike them both, but because the project for which I was using them got put on the back burner. And how much have iPads and iPad apps changed over the last two years? Which is to say, if you’re reading this in 2015 or later, you shouldn’t accept my take as definitive, but try these apps (or their other competitors) for yourself and decide what features you like.

Update (9/24): It seems that enough people are still finding their way to this post that I should correct some of the misconceptions I had when I wrote it. Where this happens, I’ll strikethrough the original text and add what I’ve learned. Two of the big ones are corrected in the comment left at the bottom by the Doceri team, but I figured no use making people work for information.

As soon as I got my iPad (as a gift) last spring, I wanted to see how I could use it for education—not just for classes, but also to help produce interesting materials for general consumption. One type of program I quickly came across was “whiteboard apps”, which can be used to produce videos that include both an audio component and a screencast of a faux-whiteboard. Thinking this was my chance to become just like C. G. P. Grey and Vi Hart, I downloaded a couple and started playing around. Recently I started using another one. Here I’m going to compare the two I’ve tried the most, the Educreations Interactive Whiteboard produced by Educreations, Inc., and Doceri, produced by SP Controls, Inc.

Let’s start with what they both have:
  • both have responsive marker tools, with a variety of colors;
  • both allow you to import outside images and incorporate them into presentations;
  • both allow you to set up slides before recording;
  • both allow you to pause during recording;
  • both allow you to email the results, or present them on the web.
In short, both are very useful for making short, expository videos for classroom or other use.

Here are the specific pros for Educreations:
  • The interface is very intuitive. There’s a minimum of buttons to accomplish the task at hand, and it’s clear basically from the start what every one does. (Doceri’s interface took me a while to sort out.)
  • The marker’s appearance is very polished; during writing, the app looks and responds to pressure as much like a real marker as one could imagine. (The marker in Doceri is a fixed width throughout every stroke; so, while the program follows the movements of handwriting to produce text, it doesn’t really emulate handwriting. I actually correct this below. There are lots of options with Doceri, including fixed-width and pen-like.)
  • Images, once imported, can be treated as objects—moved around, scaled, and even rotated during the course of a video. (Once an image is imported into Doceri, it becomes a fixed part of the background. This one I goofed because I tried to select images in Doceri with the lasso tool, the way other objects are selected. But press-and-hold on an image will select it for you.) There’s also support for adding typed text if handwritten isn’t the effect you want for parts of your video. (Doceri doesn’t have this feature.)
  • Once you save a video, it’s immediately available online for viewing on the Educreations website.
Here are the corresponding pros for Doceri:
  • Lots of flexibility. More on this shortly, but one has a lot of control over features such as when objects and writing appear on the slide and how quickly they appear.
  • The width of the marker can be specified, as can the level of opacity and the amount of spacing between individual dots in a stroke (in case you want to draw dotted lines without lifting between every dot). You can choose the color from a palette or a color wheel. There are also multiple options for the type of head, such as pen, felt-tip, paintbrush, and highlighter. (Actually, I just played around with this some more, and my above assessment of the marker as merely fixed-width wasn’t fair. Sorry about that.)
  • In addition to the variety of writing tools, there are several choices of background besides just plain white. It also has construction tools for producing straight lines, rectangles, ellipses, and arrows. Objects created inside the app—including writing—can be moved, scaled, rotated, and copied.
  • Videos can be uploaded to YouTube or Facebook from inside the app. (Educreations appears to have a proprietary format, so that videos can only be viewed on their website, although they can be embedded elsewhere on the web.)
But here is the biggest difference, the one that for my purposes is the make-or-break feature: in Doceri, slides and recordings are stored as separate projects. You can lay out all of the materials in order, set up every stroke of every slide, establish pause points, and then use them as the basis for your recording, or even multiple recordings. But you don’t actually have to make a recording at all. In fact, the slides can be used for PowerPoint-style presentations by connecting to a computer remotely. (I haven’t tried this feature, but I’ve seen a lot of reviewers say they like it.)

In Educreations, you can still set up slides ahead of time, but if you mess up during the recording, you have to start over completely and set it all up again. (This was the aspect that caused me to start looking for another resource.) The visual and audial components are intrinsically linked, and until you have made a completed recording, you cannot save the project and set it aside to work on another without trashing the whole thing.

One shortcoming both apps share is that, although you can pause during recording, you basically have to make an entire video in one take. There’s no option to splice different recordings together, or to replace or remove a particular portion of a recording. But given that both apps are free, I’ll just take this as a sign that I should buckle down and learn how to use iMovie. Here Doceri wins again. Not only can you record multiple times using the same set of slides, you can merge recordings (by dragging the icon of one on top of the other), and so you can create your video in “scenes”—no more starting over on a whole five-minute video because the end went awry!

I could say more, but I’ll just finish by giving you a chance to compare the results of my (inexpert) fiddling with these apps. At the beginning of the summer, I made a video about a particular kind of dynamical system using Educreations: you can view it by clicking on the link. At the time I made this video, I didn't have a stylus, so please take that into account when considering the handwriting.

To get some practice with Doceri, I remade the same video today:

You’ll notice that Doceri adds a watermark to the corner of the video. An in-app purchase ($4.99) will remove the watermark—a clever way, I think, for the developers to advertise and get funding. (If you're reading this on August 31, then the purchase is on sale for $0.99.)

I will probably keep using both apps, but to continue my series on dynamical systems, I’m going to stick with Doceri.

Update: The Doceri team has left a comment below explaining some of the features I hadn't discovered!

Update: The Doceri team seems very happy to have received this feedback. On their blog yesterday, they featured a quote from this post. They also gave an explanation for why I didn’t try their app at the beginning of the summer: they just added recording screencasts with the latest update, in July.


Bev Barnett said...

Thank you so much for looking at Doceri and Educations side by side, Joshua! I work with the Doceri team, and wanted to just give a little update to the great information you've provided.

You CAN actually combine two videos within the Doceri app. In the My Recordings folder, just drag and drop one recording onto another and you'll see a dialog box where you can choose to amend the original video, or combine the two to create a new video. This is quite useful when creating long videos, so you can record them in shorter segments and combine them later.

Also, images CAN be manipulated during a screencast recording - you just need to press and hold the image, select it, then it can be moved, scaled, rotated and placed elsewhere on the background just like any other drawing element. There is a separate import option for images that become a fixed background.

Again, thanks for taking the time do to this comparison and thanks for your confidence in Doceri. We'd love to see more of your screencast videos!

Karl Meyer said...

I suppose there is no substitute for experimentation but I'm still having a hard wrapping my head around the time line.

It may make more sense if I think of Doceri as it was originally conceived - a presentation tool alá power point.

In your experience does this help explain the timeline?

Anonymous said...

Question from the Netherlands: is it possible to type characters using a keybord? When preparing at home, I have time enough to typ sentences. Or are there more alternatives, besides Educrations and Doceri?